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A special cross and heartfelt letter to Ukraine from Port Jervis tucked into fire chief's coat

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

By Sharon E. Siegel

As the war continues in the Ukraine, many in America and across the world wish for the fighting to end. Among those is a Port Jervis fire chief who has had the Ukraine and its people in his heart all of his life, and has done what he personally can to help.

PJFD Deputy Chief Joseph Kowal, a 51-year firefighter and longtime leader in the department, collected more than a million dollars in value of good, but replaced in the United States, fire gear. This year that gear made its way to the Ukraine. As of 2022, the gear collected had included 75 helmets, 124 fire pants, 152 coats, 57 pairs of boots, 96 SCBA, 150 bottles, 56 masks, 10 hoods, 18 pairs of gloves, three harness, three valves, 13 bailout sets, 20 backboards, four suction units, six defibrillators, three Honda generator lights, two large air bags, controller, and hose, one Tic, one1 Stihl TS 510 saw, one ICS Vest, and miscellaneous bags and suspenders. More was added before being shipped this year.

Among the items sent was a handwritten letter composed by Kowal, which he folded and placed in the pocket of his own Past Chief fire coat.

Kowal’s note, with permission obtained to share, reads as follows:

To My Fellow Ukrainian Firefighters,

I have taken time to collect this used fire gear throughout the Counties of Orange, Ulster, and Sullivan Counties in the State of New York and Pike County in Pennsylvania. I did this to help with your efforts in fighting back the Russian forces that are trying to take over your country. I am part Ukrainian as my grandfather and grandmother came from Galichia back in 1915 to the U.S.A. where my grandfather worked on the Erie railroad for 60 yrs.

I am a volunteer firefighter for the City of Port Jervis, NY for 51 yrs. My son and tow grandsons are firefighters in Port Jervis, as well as the U.S. Airforce. It deeply saddens me to see what is happening.

This is the only way I found I could truly help. I hope this gear can help you. If new the gear collected would cost over a million U.S. dollars. I don’t know who will find this letter but I am enclosing a cross that has protected me through my time as a chief and firefighter. May it keep you safe as well. God bless you and all your troops.

Thank you for your service.

Joseph J. Kowal, Sr.

2 Hamilton St.

Port Jervis, NY 12771-1327

Kowal’s grandparents, Nat and Anna Kowal, were immigrants from Galicia, Ukraine to Port Jervis. The couple arrived in 1915 and lived on Brown Street, where Kowal’s father, John Kowal, and siblings were born. Nat, a carpenter, worked for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad.

Kowal recalls his grandparents, parents, and others in his family all speaking both English and Ukraine’s language fluently, and attributes their strong Ukrainian values as being passed down to him from them.

He pledged to continue to continue to help the Ukraine and its people.

“I’m a Ukrainian. I’ve always felt I’m a Ukrainian, and I’m always proud that I’m Ukrainian,” Kowal shared at the time. “Ukrainians are proud, hard-working, and will never let you down or give up. They are relentless. They don’t give up. I don’t give up either. I want things done the right way – no exceptions. I was taught to work hard, and you’ll get what you need to get.”

Kowal, age 70, still works part-time in the paving businesses started by his father in 1959 and in which he began helping at age seven. He also remains one of the most active firefighters in his own hometown of Port Jervis.

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1 comentário

24 de jun. de 2023

What a wonderful story to see shared so more people can read about this very special man and his journey to help others.

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